Inspiration is everywhere.

Dear friends,

I mentioned in my last post that I recently made a mini quilt for a swap. Crafters/artists swaps have been around for a long time, but I had never before thought of signing up for a quilt swap until recently when I stumbled across this blog.

I signed up on impulse, right before the deadline, and a week later I received an email with information about my secret swap partner. Since I was supposed to make a mini quilt (no smaller than 6″ X 6″ and no bigger than 24″ X 24″), I realized the petite format was perfect for an appliqued motif I’d been thinking about for weeks.

A few months ago, I tripped across this image of a neon sign on Pinterest:

firefly

Source: Roadhouse Relics

My first impulse was to buy this beauty. I was charmed by the design and instantly transported to childhood summer nights spent at my Gram’s house, where my younger cousin and I often caught fireflies in a Mason jar to create an improvised lantern that would extend our under-the-covers playtime long after our grandmother had put us to bed.

Unfortunately, the neon sign was both out of my price range and sold.

Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about the simple joy of a blue jar lit by fireflies, and I vowed to turn the image into a quilt.

I hope my swap partner has as many fond memories of “lightening bugs” as I do, because this is what I made for her:

miniquilt

I’ve been enjoying what I call “free form applique” ever since a Crate and Barrel catalog inspired me to make this table runner.  I’m too impatient for the kind of appliqued images where the edges are perfectly cut and neatly stitched in place. My free form variety is far more rustic and forgiving of mistakes, and my “doodle stitching” in various color threads is more akin to folk art than accomplished needlework.

firefliescu

I hope my style suits my secret swap pal. Thanks to the magic of the internet, the 160 folks participating in this swap have our own Flickr group and Instagram/Twitter hashtags for sharing our work. (Want to see more? Click here.) There are some very talented quilters among the group, which gives me a bit of “swap anxiety.”

I am a definite novice in this bunch, which all things considered, is probably a catbird seat for the Magpie.

With gratitude {for inspiration all around me and the opportunity to play with the big girls},

Joan, who finally “packed away” her quilting studio yesterday in a cleaning frenzy prompted by a much-improved back and a desire to serve an upcoming meal or two on the dining room table

Practice, schmactice.

Dear friends,

runnersnapseed

I spent Sunday working on more ideas for Magpie Quilts, which I’m sure comes as no surprise. My guess is you’re thinking to yourself “Does Joan have any idea how OCD she is?”

Truth is, I do. (I’m trying to make it work for me, man!)

I’ve known for a while that to take the next step in quilting, I needed to learn how to free-motion quilt (FMQ in the biz). Without this skill, I’m either stuck in straight-stiching land or doomed to pay someone else to quilt all my tops. Neither option suits me, so I spent the weekend reading up, watching videos and diving in.

Like anything worth doing, free-motion quilting requires practice. And the online quilting forums are chock full of people who practice drawing their designs freehand first, then sew on paper (yes, paper, because it’s cheap), then scraps.  Practice, practice, practice, they say. I practiced Saturday afternoon, where practice equals trying it for the first time and getting bored with practice in about 20 minutes and moving on to making key-rings.

It occurred to me that the only reason I got good at cooking is because I am allowed to eat all the “practice” dishes. Quilting, suffers, I think, from a  lack of instant gratification, especially when most of the quilters you meet talk about how much they practice and how they spend months piecing a quilt top.

To heck with that! I’m about getting it done, for better or for worse. Which is also why I’m pretty good at devising shortcuts.

To wit: Saturday night as I read in bed, I noticed this lovely tablecloth on the cover of a favorite catalog.

catalog

And I thought how pretty that tablecloth would be as a quilted table runner. But appliqueing that many berries? No way, Jose.

Instead, I used thermal adhesive (the kind you iron-on to fabric). First I free-hand cut tree branches and berries (yay for freehand cutting “practice”) then I ironed them onto a fabric panel that would become the top of my table runner. After making a “quilt sandwich,” which consists of a top, a piece of batting, and a back, I free-motion quilted the whole thing, which killed two birds with one stone. (I both “appliqued” the cut-out elements AND quilted the runner all in one fell swoop). All that was left to do was bind it and sew on a Magpie Quilts label.

I saved so much time, I even managed to help Mr. Mom put away the groceries, prepare our Sunday Supper, and set a proper table — using the new runner, of course.

In case you’re curious, here’s a close-up view:

runnercu

It’s not without imperfections — but then neither are tree bark and branches, so Mother Nature and me are sympatico, don’t you think?

With gratitude {for having never been a perfectionist but almost always finishing},

Joan, who can’t decide whether to keep this one, because it’s clearly practice quality, or give it away, because  — you know — practice schmactice